Good driving is no accident

This article was published in 2001, in Newsletter 37.

Cambridgeshire County Council has produced a booklet for motorists. It tells them ‘how to stay crash free.’ They say that sponsorship will enable them to make the guide – Good driving is no accident – very widely available.

We haven’t seen a copy of it yet, so I can’t tell you what it says about not crashing into cyclists. We may be able to review it next time. However, it seems to me that there is a fundamental problem with this, and indeed most kinds of driver education. That is, the people you most need to reach with the material are the people who are least likely to read it. People who are receptive to a road safety message are usually those who are most likely to behave responsibly and carefully. This applies as much to cyclists, of course, as it does to motorists.

Speeding ad

So just how can the principles of defensive and non-aggressive road use be transmitted?

A couple of recent examples are interesting. First, there is the message being sent by a recent TV and magazine advertising campaign. This shows graphically and quite horrifically the difference driving at 35 mph instead of 30 mph makes.

This is a really important message because many motorists are in denial about this. For many, speeding means 10 mph or more over the speed limit, and up to that it is common for people to consider that it doesn’t matter; the law doesn’t apply to them.

Focusing on children specifically (191 children were killed in crashes, of which 107 were pedestrians, and 5,011 were severely injured in 2000), the advertising campaign is designed to give one simple message in 30 seconds. It takes 21 feet more to stop at 35 mph, and that can make the difference between hitting someone, and not.

Dramatic and ubiquitous though it is, I still have doubts about its effectiveness. I am inclined to think that many motorists, especially the ones who need to heed the message most, will remain in denial, refuse to believe the message, or simply not care.

Health and safety

Many crashes happen while driving on business – in company cars, vans and so on. While professional drivers receive training (though from the number of complaints we get about incidents with bus drivers, it is hard to believe it sometimes), people for whom driving is only incidental to their job typically do not.

Though Health and Safety legislation covers many hazardous aspects of people’s jobs, incidental driving has not been one of them. However, it looks like this is likely to change. New legislation on Occupational Road Risk is likely to require training.

In anticipation of this, Cambridgeshire County Council, the County’s largest employer, is to introduce a course. From July, employees who regularly use their vehicles on council business will be required to take part in a short defensive driver training course. Cyclists and motorcyclists as well as scooter users will also be required to go on a similar training and assessment scheme.

Image as described adjacent
Will motorists remain in denial about the difference 5 mph makes after seeing the ads?

Steve Merrett, Road Safety Officer at the County Council said: ‘As an employer, Cambridgeshire County Council accepts the responsibility for maintaining the health, safety and welfare at work of its employees and others. Likewise, employees have a legal obligation to take care of their own safety and that of their colleagues and members of the public.

‘This is a natural extension of our Health and Safety policies and includes risk assessment, driver training and a monitoring system to make sure the policy is being kept and that problems are addressed. We hope other businesses will follow our lead in introducing a similar system.’

Managers will check to make sure staff comply with the new policy, which includes making sure drivers have proper documentation for their vehicle and themselves. Staff must also make sure their vehicle is roadworthy as well as reporting any accidents or endorsements on their licences. Anyone involved in an accident will be interviewed to assess whether further training is needed.

This seems to me to be a particularly effective method of reaching those who most need road user education. The application of Health and Safety legislation to driving is long overdue.

David Earl